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Baba’s Rising Sons by Edith Berry

On the Road for TCP Magazine, I attended the 2020 Winter/Spring Master Dance Series at the Living Arts Collective in Durham, NC. The Master instructors have been under the training of the Legendary Baba Chuck Davis, and dancing for at least 30 years and more. They performed with him in the African American Dance Ensemble. They are Baba’s Rising Sons: Roberts Joila and Stafford C. Perry, Jr. They wanted to continue the legacy of Baba Chuck Davis and share with others, his legacy to soar! Well, let’s take some dance leaps down memory lane, and look into the lives of each of them.

Baba Roberts is a Griot, Dancer with the African American Dance Ensemble, formerly with the Suah African Dance Theatre, and studied Theatre at North Carolina Central University. He has also been a Step Coach at the Sallie B. Howard School of Arts and Education. His journey began 38 years ago with Baba Chuck Davis. Baba Roberts was a founding member of Baba Chuck Davis’ children’s company, Alayanye (the chosen ones). He studied with many choreographers and Masters all over the world. However, Baba Roberts moment in time was when he performed in Diego Garcia in which few inhabitants visit there. It’s located off the Indian Ocean and the Camp Justice American Naval Base is located there. He said it felt like being in paradise. Baba Roberts’ genuine personae, his love for the African culture, the dance, and instructing others, is definitely his forte!

Baba’s Rising Sons
Peace, Love, Respect for Everybody!

Baba Stafford is artist/activist, educator/scholar of African-rooted Dance, aesthetics, and theatre. He told me that he has been dancing since the womb, but professionally for 30 years. Baba Stafford toured as the Associate Artistic director of Baba Chuck Davis’ African American Dance Ensemble for 14 years. He studied in Philadelphia, New York City, North Carolina, and West Africa. Baba loved West Africa the most. He approached Baba Roberts with the idea about a year ago in a conversation, about how they could continue the legacy of Baba Chuck Davis. They were of like minds about utilizing what they were taught under Baba Chuck’s leadership for their own endeavors. It was the ultimate continuance of the legacy, and what Baba Chuck would have insisted they do. So with the calling of Baba Chuck who is now with the ancestors, the birth of Baba’s Rising Sons were born, for them to add their own voice to the story and traditions.

The Master Dance class was masterfully taught, and the energy of the mind, body and spirit was greatly felt by everyone present. We learned a feeling for the African culture, nobody felt humiliated or embarrassed if they didn’t catch on to the routine. As we prepared to take a break and close the session, we went to the floor on 1 knee, then both, and bent over in a position of obeisance, as if we were given homage to mother earth. Baba’s Rising Sons will meet once a month from now until May and then have Summer Intensive classes. The blue and red t-shirts were Baba Chuck’s favorite colors. Let the legacy continue with Baba’s Rising Sons, and as Baba Chuck would always say, “Peace, Love, Respect, for Everybody!”

The Donna Summer Musical

I was on the road for TCP Magazine at DPAC for “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical!” Songs were by Donna Summer,  Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara, and others. Book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary, and Des McAnuff. The music supervision and arrangements by Ron Melrose, captured a collection of Donna Summer’s hits, sung throughout this production. Sergio Trujillo choreographer, along with dance captains Jennifer Wolfe and her assistant Sir Brock Warren, had dancers exemplifying movements with precision, gracefulness, and superbness! Des McAnuff directed the production. The energy, movement of stage props throughout the entire production, was well timed. It exhibited much fluidity in transitioning from one scene to another.

The life and times of LaDonna Adrian Gaines known by her stage name based on marriage, was  Donna Summer. She had been singing since youth, and became a big hit during the disco era in the late 1970’s. This production showcased Donna Summer upbringing from singing in the church, competing in competitions, and playing hooky from school in Boston to go to New York City for auditions. This gave her the opportunity to perform in the musical “Hair” which led to performing in Munich, Germany. The three Donna Summers from childhood, Duckling Donna/Mimi (Olivia Elease Hardy), to adult Disco Donna (Alex Hairston), to Diva Donna/Mary Gaines (Dan’yelle Williamson) playing the double character of the mother, had outstanding vocals and the phenomenal ranges that Donna Summer sang. Her German ex-husband Brian Helmuth/Sommer (Jay Garcia) divorced, and boyfriend Gunther was portrayed as abusive. Her 2nd husband musician Bruce Sodano (Steven Grant Douglas) were together until her untimely death from lung cancer. This was an all star cast! Donna Summer had many hits, was a five time Grammy winner, and best known for “Hot Stuff” “Love to love you Baby” and “Bad Girls!” And of course they sang my favorite, “She Works Hard For the Money!” Donna had three daughters represented in the show too. Let’s remember this legendary Queen of disco who took her “Last Dance” in 2012. This has been another moment in Black History.

The Legendary
The Cast
The Band

Ragtime Musical: Fighting for the American Dream

On the road with TCP Magazine, led to the production of “Ragtime” at the Stewart Theatre on North Carolina State University campus in the Talley Student Union building. It was presented by the University Theatre  from the book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. I was on the edge of my seat, singing the songs, knew what to expect in each scene, and was mentally immersed in this show! After personally performing in Ragtime 3 years ago, and fell in love with this production, there’s no better place I rather be! The scene takes place In the early 1900’s, the immigrants came to America for a better life, and yet the African Americans who were here, struggled for freedom and acceptance, but dealt with racism and discrimination.

Ragtime music is a syncopated, off beat rhythm that evolved from African Americans played on the piano. This music was played during the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. It was played at the beginning and the epilogue with “Wheels of a Dream.” Nicole Hiemenz (Mother), Tim Eldred (Father), Byron Jennings, II (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), Isaiah Lewis (Tateh) along with the cast, and crew of students and staff that performed, displayed professionalism at its best. The songs, the orchestra, dancing, and the young ladies using their parasols to emulate a car driven by Coalhouse, exhibited an energetic performance. Mother embraced Aysia Slade (Sarah) and cared for her and the child born from Coalhouse.  Tateh like any other immigrant wanted a better life for himself and his daughter. It’s the America dream! I sat next to the grandson of the young man that played Houdini, (Grayson Fulp) a freshman who had to shave his beard and make sure he kept his hair long. He shared that Grayson was honored to be a part of this production.

Even though the production depicted the times then, let’s fast forward to 2020. What is the American dream? Tateh made his dreams come true! He made a better life making movies, and married Mother. However, Coalhouse started a rampage of killings because of racism, discrimination, and no justice. But he was killed because he took justice into his own hands. Coalhouse wanted a better way of life too! He wanted the American dream! His song, “Make them Hear you” (how justice was denied). What happens to a dream deferred?”….

The Cast
Sarah & Coalhouse

Never let them see you sweat in “Sweat!” by Edith Berry

On the road with TCP Magazine, I saw the production of “Sweat,” with the Justice Theater Project by Lynn Nottage and the dynamic director, Jerry Sipp! I said, ” Never let them see you sweat” about J. Ra’Chel Fowler (Cynthia),  because that’s exactly what she did. She was asked to join the JTP cast 5 days before opening night, and learned 400 lines in 5 days during tech week. On the 2nd day after opening night, no script in hand, Ra’Chel delivered an outstanding performance that is deserving of a Tony Award! I was intrigued to know how she did this. Who is J. Ra’Chel Fowler?

Ra’Chel was excited to return to the stage after recently earning two graduate degrees (M.S. in Forensic Pyschology and Criminal Justice). She tapped into her performance training from earning a B.A. in theater from North Carolina Central  University. She has performed with the late Dr. Baba Chuck Davis’ African American Dance Ensemble (AADE), and Ayoluwa African Dance Ensemble. Ra’Chel’s previous theatrical productions are extensive, including Seven, Worried, For Colored Girls, Ragtime, and Black Nativity.

Ra’Chel had no choice in how to proceed! It was all or nothing! Her work ethic as an individual, and as an actor, required a push beyond normal efforts. Ra’Chel received some incredible memorization tips from Director Jerry Sipp called Rememborization. In the words of her character Cynthia, “it’s what I do!”

Her greatest Joy’s are her three children: Kourtnee’, Josiah & Jeremiah. Ra’Chel believes the difference between living and existing is “PASSION. “Her mantra in life is D2BD~Dare 2B Different!  “If you’re ever lucky to be different, don’t ever change.” This has been a special Black History moment! Get tickets for Sweat at: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org

Loving by Edith Berry

On the road with TCP Magazine I saw the production of “Loving,” by Peter Manos at Pure Life Theatre. This was a touching and moving story. It was eloquently directed by Deb Royals Mizerk, and music direction by Ronzel Bell. The six cast members displayed an intricate relationship during the 1950’s on racial relationships. Richard Loving (Sean Brosnahan) and Mildred Loving (Aya Wallace) had to deal with the anti-miscegenation law which made intermarriage illegal. The affection of the Loving’s relationship were genuinely portrayed. They were not allowed to live under the same roof, even though they were married.

The songs were poetically sung. JaJuan Cofield as brother, did just what brothers do, protect their little sisters! Chanda Branch and Rodney Martin as narrators, told the “Loving’s” story through song and as characters in the story. They made the audience feel like they were the Loving’s best friends! Tracy Davis as Attorney Cohen made us feel apprehensive if he could even handled this case.

This production in February as the month for Valentine’s day, and Black History month was such a befitting time to showcase an interracial couple. The Loving’s withstood the laws of Virginia to profess their love for each other, of a White man towards an African American woman. That was then, but now in 2020, interracial couples are more prevalent, and have more acceptance in the community. However, discrimination and racism still prevails in this country. The show runs until March 29th. Rev. Dr. William J. Barber shared about racism and discrimination in this country with patrons, and blessed the Pure Life Theatre building, and the 1st show of the new year. You can purchase tickets at: http://www.purelifetheatre.com

NRACT 2020-2021 Season Announcement by Edith Berry

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Bourbon at the Border by Edith Berry

On the road with TCP Magazine, I went to the North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre on Sunday, February 9, 2020. I knew all 4 characters in this show. The character of May was played by Tina Morris- Anderson, her husband Charlie, Joseph Callendar and Rosa, Dr Joy Bryant, and her beau Tyrone, Juan Isler. May and Charlie will never forget “Feedom Summer” in Mississippi of the 1964 voter registration drive. It changed their lives forever, in which civil rights workers were killed or wounded. Their friends Rosa and Tyrone also known as “Sweet Thang,” would come to May’s house for a drink. It couldn’t come quick enough for all the patrons to hear Rosa say that special pet name for Tyrone, “Sweet Thang!”

May was determine that if Charlie crossed the border to Canada, the demons he had been fighting would go away! Tyrone helped Charlie  get a job, but all Mayhem began to unfold. And why does this production have the word “Bourbon?” Well that’s the drink these two couples had whenever they were together. A little drink dulls the senses, but the pain never goes away. The price paid in 1964 was too costly! We felt the pain, and challenges of this civil rights movement, and the effect it placed on relationships!

I’m looking at this new year of 2020. It’s 56 years later, and civil rights activists are still trying to register people to vote? Are you registered? The cast members had to study their characters for a few weeks before any actual rehearsing under the direction of Natasha Jackson. She prepared the cast extremely well, in their character’s portrayal. If Joy Bryant mentioned another Knock-Knock joke, the full house of patrons were going on stage to get her. She was funny though, but the joke wasn’t funny! The ending left me speechless. Thank goodness, that the Artistic Director, Timothy Locklear passed out tissues during intermission, so I braced myself. However, I was moved at the embracing of flowers, a framed certificate, and love toward Natasha Jackson in her first debut as a director. She had always been a stage manager. It was a very touching moment. The cast and crew exhibited strong emotions, as well as comedy the entire production. It soften the pain to take it all in. This is how it feels, in being on the road with TCP Magazine.